Rolls-Royce reveals the world's most luxurious SUV, the Cullinan
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This is the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan and it is unquestionably the most luxurious 4x4 to hit the market – at least until Aston Martin gets in on the act.
The iconic British marque says its first purpose-built sports utility vehicle is inspired by Lawrence of Arabia's military-readied Roller - although it has undoubtedly been designed with the super-rich in mind - as it curtsies to let you in and deploys leather-bound picnic chairs so you can enjoy equestrian events without ever leaving the vehicle.
Bosses at BMW-owned Rolls-Royce claim the new $495,000 SUV is ‘the ultimate rough diamond’ – taking its name from the legendary 3,106 carat Cullinan gem, unearthed in 1905 in South Africa that was the largest and most flawless ever found and elements of which are in the Crown Jewels.
However, Rolls-Royce will face competition in three years' time, as fellow British brand Aston Martin has confirmed it will also make its first SUV in 2021 - and that will only come with electric power.
The Cullinan will be built at Rolls-Royce's boutique factory at Goodwood, in Sussex.
Launched to capitalise on the booming market for luxury off-roaders that's recently seen the likes of Jaguar Maserati and even Lamborghini get in on the act, Rolls-Royce is outright refusing to call it an SUV, instead referring to the all-new enormous machine as a ‘high-bodied car’. That doesn’t mean it can’t go off the beaten track, though.
And to prove it, National Geographic has been building up to this week’s glitzy unveiling with a series of videos of a prototype model being ‘tested to destruction’ during rigorous trials around the world.
It’s not like the famed British marque doesn’t have previous when it comes to creating robust all-terrain models – its highly-engineered cars have been used off-road throughout the firm’s 114-year history by the British army and Indian maharajahs, as well as in desert campaigns by Lawrence of Arabia who enthused that ‘A Rolls in the desert is above rubies’.
And this is a seriously high-rech car.
The Cullinan uses the same flexible aluminium space-frame platform as the eigth-generation Phantom limousine, as it aims to eclipse rival off-roaders such as Bentley's Bentayga and the range-topping Range Rover SVAutobiography.
It features four ‘coach’ doors – where the rear two open outwards from hinges at the back – plus Rolls-Royce’s first ever tailgate at the rear.
Riding on vast 22 inch wheels, there are two main styles the high-end car maker hopes will appeal to its ever-broadening – though always well-heeled – customers.
For those with bags of cash and a bevy of offspring, there’s a flexible five-seat model with a 600-litre boot that can be extended to 1930 litres with the second-row backrests folded flat.
And for VIPs, captains of industry and monarchs on the move, Rolls-Royce has created a statelier four-seater with two ‘pavilion’ chairs in the back.
These have been fixed in a raised grandstand position and the privacy side windows – inspired by those fitted to private jets – allow the chauffeured owner to wave to an adoring crowd if the event requires it or block them out for complete privacy.
And to ensure they’re relaxed at all times, the two executive airline-style rear seats flank a fixed centre console incorporating a drinks cabinet, Rolls-Royce whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and a cool box to chill your bottles.
Even the rear seats have been angled slightly towards each other to allow the two rear occupants to talk to one another without straining their necks.
To make getting in and out of the high-riding car easier too, Cullinan can curtsy by lowering 40mm (one-and-a-half inches) when the driver clicks the unlock button or touches the door handle sensor for keyless entry. It then rises back up when the vehicle’s ‘Start’ button is pressed.
That’s not the only luxuriously practical touch added to the limo-like SUV.
To protect skirts and trouser legs from getting dirty when getting in and out of the giant off-roader, the front and rear coach doors wrap low under the sill to ensure dirt remains on the outside of the door, not on the inner sill itself and in touching distance of fine garments.
Many of these features don't come for free, though, and buyers are expected to pay at least double the £250,000 base price by the time they’ve added their own sumptuous bespoke touches and extras.
One of the most-selected options is likely to be the pop-out ‘viewing suite’ in the boot.
Two chairs and a table emerge from beneath the boot floor at the push of a button to offer the best seats in the house for those attending the races, polo or school sports days. There are also screens just in case you want to catch up on your favourite shows while under the cover of a boot lid.
And just like the rival Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce will even handcraft special modules and suites for the boot along with bespoke equipment hampers for whatever leisure activity you enjoy most, be it fly-fishing, shooting, rock-climbing, snow-boarding, falconry, drone-racing or photography.
Despite stretching some 17 feet and six inches in length, six feet high, and weighing more than 2.6 tons, it won’t be a slouch.
That’s because it’s powered by a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine developing 563bhp – equivalent to around six Ford Fiestas – that can propel it from rest to 62mph in five seconds.
Foot to the floor and completely flat out, this breeze-block on wheels has a top speed that’s electronically limited to 250km/h.
And it should even be usable when owners return to the city from a weekend of tackling mountain sides and sand dunes as it has a relatively nimble turning circle of 13.23 metres.
All that weight and power does take its toll when it comes to fuel efficiency, however.
The Cullinan will gulp down 15-litres of fuel every 100km and emit an environmentalist-crippling 341 grams of carbon dioxide every kilometre travelled.
But while it might not be good for your bank account or global warming, it will be good for your back.
It promises a smooth ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ on and off the road thanks to its sophisticated self-levelling air suspension that Rolls-Royce says makes it ‘effortless anywhere’.
Gadgetry also prepares the suspension for any potholes ahead, with a stereo camera system integrated into windscreen that reads the asphalt for bumps and craters and makes adjustments to the chassis so the biggest ripple in the tarmac can't be felt by those inside.
Sat-nav aided transmission linked to the eight-speed automatic gearbox also prepares the car in advance for upcoming bends so no lurches or surges are experienced by passengers when the driver shifts through the gears.
To hone its composure on all terrains, Rolls-Royce has put it through its paces on the sands of Africa and the Middle East, the canyons and the mountains of North America, the frozen snow and ice of the Arctic Circle, and the rugged glens of Highlands of Scotland – as documented by National Geographic over the last few weeks.
That means it can cope with every terrain you throw at it – be it country lanes, city streets, motorways, desert sands, deep snow and ice, rough tracks, gravel, and wet grass.
To ford streams it even has a wading depth of 21.2 inches (540mm), though that’s less than the 900mm boasted by the Land Rover Discovery.
Cullinan’s chief project engineer Caroline Krismer has spent the last five years of her life with her team perfecting the 4X4, the sixth car she has been put in charge of building, but the first Rolls-Royce.
The executive told This is Money: ‘It’s been my passion. I love cars and I love sporty luxury cars. Now it’s here, I have to pinch myself.
‘It’s a car you can drive daily. It’s effortless but with off-road ability.
‘You feel safe in the car when you drive on your own, on the High Street or on the school run.
'It’s engaging. You don’t have to have that much technical skill to drive it. It’s effortless. You can have your children in the back knowing they are safe and secure.’
She said it was also ‘regal’, ‘elegant’ and would be 'perfectly suited' to a monarch such as Her Majesty the Queen.
‘It’s a very relaxed position sitting in the back. There’s lots of leg room,‘ Krismer suggested.
Intriguingly, Rolls-Royce does not currently hold a Royal Warrant – that went to Bentley when the two firms, once united, were split when BMW bought Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Volkswagen Group bought Bentley.
Inside Cullinan, the driver enjoys a hand-crafted luxury cockpit-style dashboard with digital dials and entirely metal or glass switches, including the centre console panel that houses the Spirit of Ecstasy controller dial, an ‘Everywhere’ off-road terrain button, a hill descent control switch and a touch-sensitive central information screen.
For the utmost comfort, the seats are all heated, as are the arm-rests and the centre console lid.
It’s crammed with more useful and practical tech too.
There are five USB ports, an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging for phones at the front.
There is also a high-resolution head-up display equipped with the latest navigation and entertainment systems.
Saferty features include a driver alertness warning, a four-camera driver assistance system with panoramic and all-round visibility and helicopter view, night vision, pedestrian and wildlife warnings, active cruise control, collision, cross-traffic warning, and lane departure and lane change warning.
Speaking about the new model, Rolls-Royce Motor cars chief executive officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös said: ‘Our customers have been waiting for Rolls-Royce to make a motor car that offers uncompromised luxury wherever its owner dares to venture.
‘Cullinan is that motor car.
‘It is effortless, everywhere. It will simply take the world in its stride.’
The CEO also spoke of his 'optimism' about the future of Rolls-Royce in Britain in the wake of Brexit.
‘We’re part of the British Crown Jewels when it comes to brands. It’s where we build our cars,' Müller-Ötvös said while being interviewed by radio before the Cullinan was showcased.
Some 90 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s super-luxury cars built at Goodwood are exported so he hoped a suitable free-trade deal can be struck with the European Union that would allow frictionless movement of business.
He said: ’I’m highly interested in free trade of goods world wide,' but added that there was ‘uncertainty’ in the run up to a Brexit deal, noting: ’Uncertainty is always poison for business.’
But he stressed: ’At the end of the day I’m an optimist. I hope we can structure a deal.’
The firm, which is owned by Germany's BMW, employs around 1,400 people and sold 3,362 cars last year, many costing more than £1million each thanks to widespread customisation by wealthy customers.
It expects the Cullinan to become the best-selling model it offers.
Will it fit in my garage?
Style: Rolls-Royce’s first Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) 4X4/ ‘all terrain high-bodied car’
Price: from £250,000 (NZ pricing is yet to be announced)
Engine: 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12
Power: 563bhp, 420kW, 850Nm
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Acceleration 0 to 100km/h: 5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 15 ltr / 100km
Wading depth: 540mm
Doors: 4 (plus rear tailgate) - rear coach doors open outwards from hinges at the back
Seats: 4 or 5 depending on style (Magma Red 5, Darkest Tungsten 4)
Turning circle: 13.23m
Boot volume: 600 litres (with privacy glass cover removed) and up to 1930 litres with rear seats folded down
Weight: 2660kg/ 2.66 tonnes
Wheels: 22 inch